'I Don't Care Whether I Live Or Die -
We Must Punish Pakistan'
Indians Scorn Worry And Love Their Nuclear Bombs

By Catherine Philp in Delhi
The Times - London

The circle of peace activists had just lit their candles when the yelling started. "Why do you want peace?" one man screamed, approaching the group as they held hands around a guitarist. "You are not good Indians. We should go to war and teach Pakistan a lesson."
While foreigners are packing up and leaving India, scared off by the prospect of a nuclear war, Indian peace campaigners are trying to convince their fellow citizens that a danger really exists. Evening revellers watched in bemusement and, in some cases, anger as the activists held banners and passed out anti-nuclear leaflets in the imposing shade of India Gate, Lutyens's memorial to the country's war dead.
Nisha, 26, clutching an ice cream and her toddler son, read impassively through a leaflet calling for immediate dialogue with Pakistan to avert the horror of a nuclear war. "Why should we worry about this?" she said with a shrug. "India has more nuclear weapons than Pakistan. We will wipe them off the map and win the war."
The view may sound extreme, but it is one shared by George Fernandes, the Indian Defence Minister, who coldly calculated that India could survive such a strike and deliver a fatal blow to Pakistan. Scientists have predicted that a nuclear exchange would kill 12 million people, half of them in India, but all over the country people are baying for war, nonetheless. About 82 per cent believe that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict, but 74 per cent believe that India should attack.
To activists, such statistics are terrifying. "There is no conception among ordinary people about what a nuclear bomb would do," Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author and activist leading the vigil, said. "They just think it will make a louder bang."
When India tested its first atomic weapon in 1998, the nuclear scientists responsible were fêted like cricket heroes. No one dared to suggest there might be a downside. There were no public service broadcasts explaining what to do in the event of a nuclear strike, no doomsday television dramas about a nuclear holocaust of the type that put fear into the West during the Cold War.
Rithin Menon, a feminist publisher, said at the rally: "There is a tremendous reluctance to show material that is destabilising. I don't think any television station would dare do it."
The result is a profound ignorance about the reality of nuclear conflict. The depth of misconception among ordinary people, who are pushing for their Government to go to war, is alarming.
"The bomb is some kind of gas," Lalith Kumar, a drinks vendor, said as he served his customers iced tea from his stall in the trendy Priya shopping district. "Farmers will be okay because they can dig trenches to hide in. The rest of us will be annihilated."
Gancham Gupta, a paediatrician and one of Mr Kumar's customers, snorted into his drink in amusement. He knew much more about nuclear weapons, he said - fall-out, radiation and so on - but still saw little reason to be afraid. "We doubt Pakistan's capability because their missiles are all smuggled," he said.
"India made its own so they will work, but Pakistan's won't."
Anyone who tries to say otherwise is labelled unpatriotic. When Sonia Reddy, an editorial writer, said in an anti-nuclear piece for a national newspaper that she would build an ark for her and her family in the event of a nuclear war, it prompted a stream of e-mails denouncing her as a "bad Indian".
The message is clear: you can be against the bomb or you can be for India. You cannot be both.
"There is a huge ambivalence about being a nuclear power," Ms Menon said. "Very few people, even in the liberal media, will come out against nuclear weapons." Ms Roy added: "There is virtually no peace movement in India. That's very disturbing."
A few publications are beginning to stick their necks out. In its weekend edition, the news magazine India Today carried a report describing in detail what would happen if Pakistan were to launch a nuclear strike. Its cover shows people running in panic away from a mushroom cloud rising over India Gate as a firestorm tears up the main street.
But with supporters of war in full voice, such apocalyptic scenarios may have come too late to change public opinion. "I don't care whether I live or die - we must punish Pakistan," Mr Kumar said, mixing up another jug of iced tea. "If it doesn't happen to me, it will happen to my children. There should be war now and this should be the end of it.",,3-315179,00.html


This Site Served by TheHostPros